My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Friday, March 8, 2013

A tale of surrender in Gigland

© Anyka -
I could have performed on the same stage as the incredible Bernadette Peters tonight.  But here I am, sitting at home instead, writing a blog post.  Before you start feeling sorry for me, let me tell you my little tale of surrender in gigland.  I think you'll quickly see that I'm pretty content and relieved about how everything turned out.  

It all started at the end of January.  I received an e-mail from the personnel contractor of our regional orchestra with the subject line, 
Bernadette Peters needs piano!!
At first I literally thought it was spam, I mean really.  But after rereading the e-mail several times and gathering that it was indeed real, I was terribly excited, first of all because this was my first call to sub for this particular orchestra and second of all because we're talking Bernadette Peters!!  The Bernadette Peters!!!

A private conversation with myself ensued:
"No, I'm too busy!"  
"But it's Bernadette Peters!"
"It's the last day of school before spring break...nothing on the could be fun..."

Which led to, "What on earth am I thinking?!?  What kind of music am I going to be expected to play?"

I called up a colleague of mine who is the symphony's regular pianist and consulted with her.  Based on that conversation I decided I could do it.   I accepted the gig.

Pretty soon I received music for the first half of the concert - "Seventy Six Trombones," a medley from A Chorus problem!  But then I came across a lead sheet for the song, "Sing, Sing, Sing."  Oh my.  I was informed at this point that the music for the Peter's portion of the concert wouldn't be arriving until a few days before the rehearsal and performance.  

[Insert tiny niggling of doubt.]

For some reason in spite of my increased blood pressure, I managed to convince myself that I could do this in spite of being a classical nerd with lots of love for jazz but virtually no experience with chord charts in a high pressure situation.  I talked to the jazz teacher across the hall from me at work, I practiced some recommended voicings, I talked with friends on twitter, I listened to recordings of the song, I even bought two books on playing jazz piano.  After a few days of working at it I still sounded like a classical pianist attempting to sound hip.  It wasn't pretty.  I e-mailed the conductor of the orchestra to ask what he wanted from me for that particular number, admitting that I'm not comfortable reading chord charts.  No response.

[Tiny niggling of doubt starts to propogate.]

Fast forward through some nail-biting weeks until Tuesday of this week, the week of the performance.  As I'm leaving work I see that an e-mail has arrived from the symphony with a portion of the Peters' music.  I got a bit nauseated.  They were mostly chord charts with directions I'm not exactly used to like, "A la stripper," "Charleston tempo," and "STRIDE ARP. FEEL."  I'm no stripper, I've never danced the Charleston, and well, who knows what the last one means?  

[Out-of-control doubt now turns into full-blown panic.]

I had absolutely no idea what to do.  It was three days before the performance but I knew that I was not the person for the job.  But how could I pull out so last minute?  I would feel like such a failure and I would be jeopardizing any hope of subbing with the symphony again!  

But then I closed my eyes and pictured the day of the concert.  The more I thought about it the more I realized that this event had the potential to match some of the nightmares that I've had that have involved stages and pianos - and now Bernadette Peters.

I e-mailed the personnel contractor and asked when I might receive the rest of the Peters' music.  Upon being told that I might not get it until an hour before rehearsal (7 hours before showtime) I waved the white flag.  I admitted that I was uncomfortable with the situation and that I wasn't sure I was the right person for the gig.  I truly wanted to die at this point!  This felt a bit like professional suicide.  She e-mailed back saying that she thought it was too late to find another pianist but that she could ask a colleague of mine.  Knowing that this individual is incredible at this kind of playing, I asked her to please give it a try.  A few hours later I got a call.  He had agreed to cover for me.  

[Insert overt tears and expressions of gratitude.]

I realize I am incredibly lucky.  I also realize I should have never accepted the gig in the first place. I am a classically trained pianist and at least for now, that's where I belong.  I've always wanted to learn how to play jazz and to read chord charts and perhaps I'll learn one of these days but for now I need to keep my feet in the land I know best, regardless of how tempting it might be to accept a gig like this one.  I'd rather not turn my nightmares into reality.

So here I am finishing this blog post instead of pretending I'm someone I'm not.  

And you know what?  I feel great!

P.S. - Ms. Peters, stay tuned.  The next time you come through town I may fit the bill.  Or perhaps we could do some lieder or arias...that would be right down my alley!


  1. The transition from classical-->jazz can be difficult for even the most accomplished of musicians. When I've been singing classical for awhile, getting a jazz gig can be super nerve wracking. I have to admit being in your situation would have made me panic too; I'm the kind of musician who needs a good amount of prep time! I envy those who can sight read beastly music and improv.

    1. Angelina,
      Improv...yes, that's another area I so wish I had more confidence and experience. And with jazz it's definitely not helpful to be panicking - kind of defeats the purpose of the whole genre it seems. But I definitely love it!

      Thanks for reading, commenting, and understanding why I was a little panicky about the whole thing.


    2. Wow, Bernadette Peters is huge! But I think you did the right thing, if you weren't feeling confortable it was best to wave the white flag. Although I'm pretty sure that it's more likely that you learn how to play jazz piano than her to sing arias ou lieder hahahaha
      Your blog is pretty cool! I'll most certainly be coming back here!
      Cheers! :D

    3. Ha ha, Isabela. You never know. It certainly would be interesting though to hear her sing some classical rep. Wonder if she would be as terrified doing that as I was thinking about playing for her.

      Thanks for reading!


  2. I have great respect for musicians who are capable of saying "no." Your 'white flag' is a sign of a healthy approach to gigs.

    I'd rather deal with a 'no thank you' and/or a timely withdrawal, than deal with a weak link. I'd also be inclined to trust your "yes" all the more.

    Thanks for the blog.

    1. Kim,
      So good to hear from you again! And thank you for your encouragement that I did the right thing. I wish I had done it a little sooner to tell you the truth but at least I did it. It surprised me how difficult it was to do, though. Amazing how our ego can get in the way.

      From now on I'm hoping I'll be a little more knowledgeable about when I need to say "no."

      Thanks for reading and hope all is well with you,